The main role of vanilla extract is to give a recipe a deeper, more complex flavor. Unless the food’s primary flavor is vanilla -- like vanilla ice cream -- it is not critical to the success of the recipe. If you simply leave vanilla extract out of a cheesecake brownie recipe, your final product will taste fine. You may not even notice the missing ingredient. If you want a more complex, varied flavor, several substitutes for vanilla complement chocolate and cream cheese well.
Several other flavorings or extracts can enhance the rich chocolate and tangy cream cheese flavors in the brownies. Nut-based flavorings, such as almond extract, and some fruit-based flavorings, such as orange or raspberry extract, are the best options for your recipe.
Chocolate and Cream Cheese Complements
Grated citrus peel, particularly orange zest, which is common in cheesecake recipes, is a good substitute. Ground cinnamon, which is a traditional topping for hot chocolate and cream cheese pastries, is an unusual but appropriate ingredient to add to cheesecake brownies. Coffee strengthens the flavor of chocolate and complements cream cheese. Dry instant coffee or brewed coffee are also reasonable substitutes for vanilla.
Liquors and Liqueurs
Cream-based or citrus-flavored liqueurs also incorporate into chocolate- and cream cheese-based recipes well. Choose a high-end liqueur that is recommended for other recipes to ensure the product is suitable for your brownies. Alcohol cooks out of brownies while they bake. If you use liqueur in the recipe, the brownies will still be safe for children to eat.